AECT Graduate Student Analyzes Dissonance Between Eating Habits and Religious Views

Pictured from left: Lora Walsh, assistant professor in religious studies; Karli Stringer, master's student in AECT; Jefferson Miller, professor in AECT; and on monitor, Jill Rucker, assistant professor in AECT.
Jessica Wesson

Pictured from left: Lora Walsh, assistant professor in religious studies; Karli Stringer, master's student in AECT; Jefferson Miller, professor in AECT; and on monitor, Jill Rucker, assistant professor in AECT.

A master's student within the Agricultural Education, Communications and Technology Department researched the relationship between nutritional habits and religious views for her thesis.

Karli Stringer successfully defended the thesis titled "Dissonance Between Christian Beliefs and Eating Habits in the South." Stringer is currently pursuing a master in agricultural and extension education.

"The purpose of this qualitative study was to initiate understanding of how obesity in the South is still so prevalent, even though the majority of inhabitants subscribe to a faith that discourages unhealthy lifestyles," Stringer said. "Furthermore, the information presented in this research sought to fill the knowledge gap for communicators and educators concerning the dissonance between Christianity in the South and the unhealthy eating habits of Southerners."

Stringer's thesis adviser and co-researcher, Jefferson Miller, professor in the AECT department, guided her through the research process. Stringer's thesis committee also included Jill Rucker, associate professor in AECT, and Lora Walsh, assistant professor of religious studies.  

Stringer and her thesis committee identified some research questions and set up interviews to gather qualitative data from people in the Bible belt that consider themselves religious.

"Several major themes emerged from these interviews," Stringer said. "One being that all participants mentioned that the purpose of food is for sustenance and survival, as well as for bringing people together."

Most participants stated that they had an average level of knowledge about health and nutrition. Participants also mentioned that the knowledge they did have came from healthcare professionals or personal trainers rather than marketing or educational efforts.

When participants were asked to provide biblical references over food or health, participants would often quote 'the body is a temple' and 'gluttony,' according to Stringer.

"Interestingly, when asked to explain the reasonings behind their food selections, all participants displayed a theme in referring to taste or desirability as the drive behind their food selections," Stringer said. "Most participants claimed habitual gluttony as a personal experience in their lives."

Finally, Stringer's research concluded that there are two primary modes of trivializing to resolve the dissonance between religious views and eating habits.

"Some participants justified their eating habits based off of Southern culture, while others explained that their church culture supported unhealthy eating as a means of gathering in fellowship with others," Stringer said.

Miller said that Stringer was a great example for those wanting to make good progress on their thesis. She started early, kept working hard and didn't take any time off.

"Working with Karli was a unique experience for me. She set a goal to finish her thesis in three semesters, which hasn't been done in the 20 years I have been a professor," Miller said. "I was skeptical at first about being able to finish this in the timeframe that she wanted, but she knocked it out of the park."

Stringer said that each committee member played a special role in the research process.

"I am just very thankful for such a supportive committee and faculty at the University of Arkansas," Stringer said. "It is not often that you get to come up with such a specific study that encompasses so many things that you are passionate about, and it is even more rare to spend a year and a half surrounded by so many people that are also passionate about those things."

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